Noah Arceneaux

Radio Shack Comics

Dr. Noah Arceneaux is a professor in SDSU’s School of Journalism and Media Studies and a big fan of comics! Check out his latest video about his personal collection of Radio Shack Comics! Please Enjoy!

Grace deVega

“Sourcing the Sounds” – An Origin Story

Written by Grace deVega
SDSU History Major, 2022

All comic heroes need a compelling origin story: Spider-Man with Uncle Ben, Batman with his parents in the alley, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with the toxic waste in the sewers. These beginnings shape their characters and lay the foundation for the rest of the series. For exhibits, the beginning stages of curation serve a similar purpose, especially when it comes to sourcing the materials for the collection. These sources serve as both the basis upon which the exhibit will make its argument and the catalyst that compels patrons to interact.

You could say I am on my personal Ninja-Turtle-and-toxic-sewer-waste origin story journey, albeit without the superpowers and affinity for pizza, as I begin to curate materials for my exhibit on depictions of sound in comics. Now that I have completed the bulk of the background research, my main focus has been on sourcing examples from a variety of places. Throughout this process, I have learned how to broaden my approach to sourcing and to tackle topics from multiple, and often new, angles.

If the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ superhero origins stories revolve around an love for pizza, mine would certainly revolve around music. As someone who has both performed in ensembles for many years and conducted previous research on depictions of music in sequential art, I decided to start the curation process with locating materials for the music category because it was a topic with which I was most familiar. Because this exhibit is being developed in coordination with the Center for Comics Studies, I plan to have nearly all of the materials come from SDSU and, more specifically, the comics in the Special Collections that can be found via the SDSU Library’s ComicsHub. I learned early on that the sheer number and variety of comics that SDSU offers meant that I needed to quickly narrow my field in order to find comics about music. In order to achieve this, I created a list of keywords related to music and then began to search for comics that included those words in their titles and synopses. Such words included “band,” “concert,” “instrument,” “singer,” “piano,” “guitar,” and “drums.” From there, it became a process of reading through the selection for any references to music in their imagery, symbols, content, plotlines, and characters. At the same time, I relied on secondary scholarship, namely peer-reviewed articles, that discussed music for further examples. It was, in a sense, a sort of reverse engineering where I relied on the secondary material to find primary evidence that I could then look for and include in my own research. Both of these types of sourcing were invaluable in helping me curate a variety of comics that feature music in different forms.

I then moved on to explore comics that feature onomatopoeia, or words formed from the sound with which they are associated, such as bang, zap, and pow. Whereas music in comics is often plot or character specific, onomatopoeia and sound effects are found in nearly every comic in some capacity, so it is difficult to search by keywords. As such, I had to adapt my process for setting search parameters. One of the easiest ways to limit the comics was to search by national origin. I hope to analyze onomatopoeia in comics across languages and nationalities in the exhibit, so looking through the foreign-language comics that SDSU possesses was a simple but effective way to both find evidence and narrow down the searches. In terms of English-language comics, I provided the repository with specific time period and publisher parameters so that I could curate a cross-section of what I believed represented the different genres, eras, styles, and artists from the collection. The intention behind this search was to use these comics as starting points for finding trends or patterns of onomatopoeiae that I could then go back and look for in the ComicsHub. For example, based on the various noir-style comics that I pulled in my initial search, I found these types of comics often forgo flashy forms of onomatopoeia for the sake of style. Therefore, if I need further evidence of noir-style onomatopoeia or of subtle uses of sound effects in the future, I can search for them in the repository based on the criteria set by these original noir comics. I am still in process with looking for onomatopoeia, particularly in unusual or novel forms, but breaking down the ComicsHub into manageable pieces has been helpful in setting a baseline for my continued research.

In addition to these efforts in the ComicsHub and Special Collections, I have also ventured into sourcing via other means than traditional database mining. Recently, I crowdsourced my question via Twitter, reaching out to the comics scholars that collaborate on that platform. My tweet received substantial engagement from academics that shared their personal and classroom encounters with onomatopoeia in comics. I was surprised by the level of interaction, as well as the specificity of answers. Additionally, it was fascinating to watch the reach of the tweet expand over the course of several days as it became liked and reposted by scholars across the country and even the globe. 

Beyond diving into the digital sphere, I took a physical venture into new sourcing avenues by touring the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego. All of my other exhibit tours have been virtual, so the Comic-Con Museum offered a fresh perspective on showcasing comics in museum settings. The museum currently features an exhibition on the history and cultural impacts of Spider-Man and includes several different digital displays and activities. I was particularly intrigued by a sound booth that plays the original Spider-Man song through a set of ear pieces. I found many examples of comics that I hope to explore further, as well as learned new comics organization techniques and ways to integrate interactivity into exhibits.

Grace deVega standing in front of the entrance to the Comic-Con Museum.
My first visit to the Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego.

Throughout this entire research journey, one of the most surprising aspects has been the fact that this type of curation does not follow a linear path. In contrast to what I believed going into the work, there is no fixed set of steps where one article would lead to an example of a specific comic and that comic would then be sourced and added to the collection. Instead, it is an iterative process: a series of backtracking, starting over, and jumping from idea to idea, which creates a long, complicated, and often cyclical flow of scholarly discovery. Exploring this is an exciting path of research just one of the many lessons I have learned and will continue to learn throughout my academic adventure into the aural.

Photo of Grave deVega.

Grace deVega (she/her) is a Fourth Year History and Political Science student at San Diego State University. She previously won the President’s Award at the SDSU Student Research Symposium and 1st Place in her Division at the CSU Research Competition for her research into the impacts of the 1986 Philippines People Power Movement on nonviolent revolutions. She has also played clarinet for the past twelve years, including in the SDSU marching and concert bands, which is where her passion for music and aural studies derives.

Grace deVega

Bang! Pow! Zap!

Written By Grace deVega
SDSU History Major, 2022

For the past several weeks, these expressive onomatopoeic words have flown around in my head with the same velocity and ferocity as they would on any comic book page as I begin to dive into their meanings, impacts, and distinct roles within the voice of a comic. 

This semester, I have been given the tremendous opportunity to intern with Professor Pollard and Librarian Pamela Jackson and contribute to their ongoing efforts in the Center for Comics Studies by studying depictions of sound in comics. In particular, since a significant focus of the Center is social justice, exploring the engagement that individuals with auditory (visual, and other) disabilities may have with sounds in comics was both of interest to me and in alignment with the values and mission of the Center’s Comics and Social Justice “Big Idea.” Likewise, because comics are known as a visual medium, their auditory aspects are often overlooked, so I was intrigued by the interplay between these two senses on the page. This “expressive potential” of pictorial representations of sound to evoke aural and emotional responses and associations from audiences is what American cartoonist Scott McCloud labels as “synaesthetics” (Understanding Comics, p. 123-124). Additionally, as a lifelong musician, the depiction of music in sequential art is particularly fascinating to me. I have also conducted similar studies of depictions of music in the past, so this research felt like a natural progression. 

In terms of showcasing this research, I’ll be creating a digital exhibit that explores the various types of aural depictions in comics, including music, onomatopoeia, and nonverbal sounds. In particular, I hope to incorporate into the exhibit the wide array of the comics, graphic novels, and other forms of sequential media from SDSU’s collection,  as a way of highlighting our collection’s connections to this area of research.

Figure One shows an early draft of this brainstorming and includes many of the preliminary questions into which I have been looking.
My brainstorming board!

My first step in this process has been to create a brainstorming storyboard that contains a running list of the topics and areas that I would need to cover to make this project worthwhile. Figure One shows an early draft of this brainstorming and includes many of the preliminary questions into which I have been looking. As a result of this thinking, I soon realized that there would be three main areas to which I should dedicate my focus: exhibit design, digital exhibit software, and content research. I have relatively less experience with the former two, so I have spent most of my time working on them. 

For exhibit design, one of the most fascinating parts that I have been learning about is exhibit theory. Articles such as “Methodology for Design of Online Exhibitions” by Angeliki Antoniou, George Lepouras, and Costas Vassilakis review the considerations that digital exhibit designers must take as they create their displays, including audience composition, learning models, and level of interactivity. Such research has been foundational to my subsequent studies. In addition, I have learned about exhibit design by looking into several published digital exhibits from various museums and institutions. Places like the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Columbus, Ohio and the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco, California have been particularly helpful in demonstrating both the necessities and possibilities for a successful exhibit.

Familiarizing myself with digital exhibit software has been the biggest learning curve for me, but also the most rewarding. I have limited experience with website design and coding, so I have been spending a lot of time learning the basics of digital language in order to make a decision about which software I will use. I have also watched tutorials and began experimenting with different platforms, including Adobe XD and Omeka. This type of research has been empowering because, unlike any other project I have undertaken in college so far, the end product will be tangible and shareable in ways that papers or presentations could not equate. 

Cart of comics alongside a table and notepad inside of the Special Collections & University Archives Reading Room.
My research cart of comics is on hold in Special Collections!

Lastly, for my research in depictions of sound in comics, I have learned a tremendous amount and have found many different avenues that I am excited to explore. For instance, I am interested in the role that memory plays in recalling sounds, and how artists rely on those memories to visually represent a sound. This is found in sounds with cultural significance, such as in religious rituals, as well as in music. Aiding my research in this area has been the Special Collections department in the SDSU Love Library, which has provided me with a variety of comics from our archives that I can use for the digital collection. Figure Two features me in special collections with all of the books from the collection that I hope to incorporate!

All of this to say, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to not only explore a topic for which I have an immense passion and interest, but also strengthen my research, design, communication, and technical skills. I am so excited to continue this work!

Photo of Grave deVega.

Grace deVega (she/her) is a Fourth Year History and Political Science student at San Diego State University. She previously won the President’s Award at the SDSU Student Research Symposium and 1st Place in her Division at the CSU Research Competition for her research into the impacts of the 1986 Philippines People Power Movement on nonviolent revolutions. She has also played clarinet for the past twelve years, including in the SDSU marching and concert bands, which is where her passion for music and aural studies derives.


Fun and Games Illustrated

It’s October and you know what that means? It’s also INKTOBER! ​This month-long art challenge was started in 2009 by illustrator, ​Jake Parker​, as a daily challenge to improve his inking skills and develop positive drawing habits. ​Since then, artists and yes, even those of us who claim “but I can’t draw,” have risen to the challenge of illustrating one drawing per day throughout the month of October. Inktober provides the drawing prompts and you? Well, you draw. Use the official Inktober prompts, search social media for numerous alternative lists (tip: search the keywords “inktober prompts” on Instagram), or make your own list. Are you ready to meet the challenge? Get ready for tomorrow!

The official Inktober 2022 drawing prompt list.

Below are a few alternative lists that caught the attention of SDSU Library employees:

Comics and Roman History

An Interview with Professor Elizabeth Pollard

Listen in as SDSU Journalism & Media Studies Professor, Dr. Noah Arceneaux, interviews Dr. Elizabeth Pollard from the History Department about the inclusion of comics in her course, History 503 Ancient Rome. This “comics-related” course includes a healthy amount of comics but they are not the sole focus of the class. The course will be offered again in Spring 2023!


Cold War & Comics

An Interview with Professor Greg Daddis

Listen in as SDSU Journalism & Media Studies Professor, Dr. Noah Arceneaux, interviews Dr. Greg Daddis, Professor of History and Director of the Center for War and Society and the USS Midway Chair in Modern U.S. Military History about the power of comics to study the Cold War. Greg’s new course, History 580: Comics and the Cold War, will be offered for the first time this fall.


A Dozen Comics to Read in Honor of Black History Month

It’s Black History Month and here are a dozen comics we’re reading that feature black characters and black creators. Dig in and read more comics!

Cover of Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community 2020-2021

Access Guide to the Black Comic Book Community 2020-2021
Creators: Dimitrios Fragiskatos, Joe Illidge, George Carmona the 3rd
A guidebook to Black creators and an index “to find the publishers, stores and conventions that provide kinship, safe spaces, and promote an imaginative variety of experiences through comic books!” ~ 

Cover of After the Rain

After the Rain (2021)
Creators: Nnedi Okorafor, John Jennings, David Brame
“After the Rain is a graphic novel adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor’s short story ‘On the Road.’ The drama takes place in a small Nigerian town during a violent and unexpected storm. A Nigerian-American woman named Chioma answers a knock at her door and is horrified to see a boy with a severe head wound standing at her doorstep. He reaches for her, and his touch burns like fire. Something is very wrong. Haunted and hunted, Chioma must embrace her heritage in order to survive.” ~Abrams Books

Cover of Ajani Brown Presents: Straight Outta Freemanville

Ajani Brown Presents: Straight Outta Freemanville (2019)
Creator: Ajani Brown and Erik Reichenbach
A western, steamfunk, historical fantasy set in the post Civil War frontier town of Freemanville, USA. Freemanville was founded by free & newly freed African Americans who moved west to escape the harsh conditions of the Antebellum South. Stagecoach Mary transports a VIP through the badlands to Freemanville, USA. The town is self-sustaining and technologically advanced, but under constant threat by marauders both of this world and not.

Cover of The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History

The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History (2021)
Creators: David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson
“Founded in Oakland, California, in 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was a radical political organization that stood in defiant contrast to the mainstream civil rights movement. This gripping illustrated history explores the impact and significance of the Panthers, from their social, educational, and healthcare programs that were designed to uplift the Black community to their battle against police brutality through citizen patrols and frequent clashes with the FBI, which targeted the Party from its outset.” ~Ten Speed Press

Cover of Big Black: Stand at Attica

Big Black: Stand At Attica (2020)
Creators: Frank “Big Black” Smith, Jared Reinmuth, Ameziane
“A graphic novel memoir from Frank “Big Black” Smith, a prisoner at Attica State Prison in 1971, whose rebellion against the injustices of the prison system remains one of the bloodiest civil rights confrontations in American history.” ~Boom!

Cover of Bitter Root

Bitter Root (2018-) 
Creators: David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene
“In the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance is in full swing, and only the Sangerye Family can save New York-and the world-from the supernatural forces threatening to destroy humanity. But the once-great family of monster hunters has been torn apart by tragedies and conflicting moral codes. The Sangerye Family must heal the wounds of the past and move beyond their differences… or sit back and watch a force of unimaginable evil ravage the human race.” ~Image Comics

Cover of Class Act

Class Act (2020)
Creator: Jerry Craft
“Eighth grader Drew Ellis is no stranger to the saying ‘You have to work twice as hard to be just as good.’ His grandmother has reminded him his entire life. But what if he works ten times as hard and still isn’t afforded the same opportunities that his privileged classmates at the Riverdale Academy Day School take for granted?” ~Quill Tree Books/Harper Collins

Cover of Excellence, no. 1

Excellence (2019-)
Creators: Khary Randolph, Brandom Thomas, Emilio Lopez
“Spencer Dales was born into a world of magic. His father belongs to the Aegis, a secret society of black magicians ordered by their unseen masters to better the lives of others—those with greater potential—but never themselves. Now it’s time for Spencer to follow in his father’s footsteps, but all he sees is a broken system in need of someone with the wand and the will to change it. But in this fight for a better future, who will stand beside him?” ~Skybound/Image Comics

Cover of Fights: One Boy's Triumph Over Violence

Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence (2020)
Creator: Joel Christian Gill
“Fights is the visceral and deeply affecting memoir of artist/author Joel Christian Gill, chronicling his youth and coming of age as a Black child in a chaotic landscape of rough city streets and foreboding backwoods. Propelled into a world filled with uncertainty and desperation, young Joel is pushed toward using violence to solve his problems by everything and everyone around him. But fighting doesn’t always yield the best results for a confused and sensitive kid who yearns for a better, more fulfilling life than the one he was born into, as Joel learns in a series of brutal conflicts that eventually lead him to question everything he has learned about what it truly means to fight for one’s life.” ~Oni Press

Cover of Killadelphia, no. 21

Killadelphia (2019-)
Creators: Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander
“When a small-town beat cop comes home to bury his murdered father—the revered Philadelphia detective James Sangster Sr.—he begins to unravel a mystery that leads him down a path of horrors that will shake his beliefs to their core. The city that was once the symbol of liberty and freedom has fallen prey to corruption, poverty, unemployment, brutality… and vampires.” ~Image Comics

Cover of Omni, no. 5

Omni (2019-20)
Creators: Melody Cooper, Devin Grayson, Giovanni Valletta, Bryan Valenza, Dave Johnson, Enid Balám, Cris Bolson, Alitha E. Martinez, Bryan Valenza, Mike McKone
“A young doctor suddenly and mysteriously acquires superpowers…as do several other individuals on the planet. But only her power can answer “why.” A gifted doctor with a vibrant, compassionate personality, Cecelia Cobbina received boundless praise from her peers and her patients. But that was before the incident in Africa. Before she was forced to leave her job at Doctors Without Borders behind… Before she gained the ability to think at superhuman speed. Overwhelmed with the power to answer every question, she must now overcome her own fears and tackle the one code she can’t seem to break: the truth behind the Ignited.” ~Humanoids

Variant cover of Tartarus, no. 8

Tartarus (2020-21)
Creators: Jack T. Cole and Johnnie Christmas 
“Promising young cadet Tilde is framed for crimes against the empire after discovering her mother was the ruthless warlord of the deadly colony Tartarus, a vital player in the galactic war. Now, Tilde’s only way home may be to reclaim her mother’s dark crown.” ~Image Comics

For more information about the Comic Arts Collection at SDSU, see our Library Research Guide.


Interview with Ryan Claytor, creator of A Hunter’s Tale

Comics@SDSU met with artist and professor Ryan Claytor about his new comics project, A Hunter’s Tale. A graduate of SDSU’s School of Art + Design, Ryan has a rich career developing his art and teaching comics. He is currently a professor at Michigan State University where he both developed and taught the first comics studio course in the school’s history. Additionally, he coordinates MSU’s Comic Art and Graphic Novels Minor. Join our librarian and comic arts curator, Pamela Jackson, in conversation with Ryan about his project, his work at MSU and his time at SDSU!

To back this project on Kickstarter project, see:


Comics@SDSU Goes to Comic-Con

After a two-year hiatus on in-person events, San Diego Comic-Con International was back last weekend and members of Comics@SDSU were well represented. We presented on three panels! But first, let’s hear from our co-founders about their individual experiences and impressions of the event.

Pamela Jackson’s View

Librarian, Comic Arts Curator, and pandemic diehard Pam here. I thought I would frame my comments in terms of the pandemic and in comparison to my experiences at Comic-Con over the last 15 years. I recently read a poll that said 75% of Americans have nearly gone back to their normal, pre-pandemic lives. As someone in a higher risk household, I guess I’m a solid 25-percenter. My last public event was San Diego Comic Fest in March of 2020. I still work from home. I don’t attend social events or even eat out at restaurants. Comic-Con was me ripping off my pandemic band-aid for the first time in 21 months.

I picked up my badge on Wednesday before the event not knowing what to expect. To my pleasant surprise, I was able to secure a wristband that cleared my vaccination or negative Covid test status, pick up my badge, and grab a goodie bag stocked with free “hanitizer” from a company I regularly patronize (that smelled… interesting, but I was still delighted to see it in my bag) in a mere 17 minutes! 

The scene on opening day Friday morning was much different outside with long Covid clearance lines. Those of us already wearing our scarlet wristbands were allowed to enter. “Right this way,” Security said. “Through door F.” I walked into a large indoor staging area with fans standing shoulder-to-shoulder in multiple lines waiting to enter the Exhibit Hall, quickly spun on my heels and hustled right back out of there muttering, “Nope nope nope.” Hard pass. I was not ready for that. 

The crowds outside on Friday morning. One of the few lines this year!

One of the joys of Comic-Con has always been that it’s like a live-action “choose your own adventure” book. There is so much to see and do that if you don’t like what’s in front of you at the moment, go do something else. The ability to set my own boundaries during the pandemic and still have an engaging Con experience that matched my comfort and safety concerns was stellar. I popped up to the spacious hallways by the programming rooms, then moved through the sparsely-populated Sails Pavilion (that was only ever moderately busy when fans paused to eat lunch) and on to the Mezzanine windows that overlook the Exhibit Hall. 

I had not intended to walk the Exhibit Hall this year, but Saturday morning was freakishly calm and comfortable. I walked the entire floor twice, safely visiting with friends, creators and dealers. It was the best place in town for attendees to do their Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping with row after row of toy dealers, pop culture tchotchkes, and creators sharing their hand-crafted arts. Notably slim this year were publishers and comic book dealers. Though there were a few, this was a bit of bummer to me. I am a librarian afterall – buying way too many books at Comic-Con is what I do! I ran into one of the founders of Comic-Con, Mike Towry, and asked him what year this felt like? He explained that it was a difficult question to answer because while attendance may have been around the same as the late 1990s/early 2000s (estimated at 40-60K this year; it’s normally well over 130,000), the facilities would likely have been smaller so the event back then may have felt more crowded. 

A birds-eye view of the Exhibit Floor from the Mezzanine windows.

Mask wearing was enforced (even for panelists) and mostly honored, which I appreciated. I’ve been asked by many, “Did you feel safe?” Overall, in a vaxxed or tested Delta world, the event felt safe, in part because I could “choose my own adventure.”

The staff, volunteers and security seemed as thrilled as the creators and fans to be at Comic-Con. It was great to be back. It felt like a displaced community finally coming home.

Beth Pollard’s View: “Something to Sing About”

Pam and I have been pandemic buddies since March 2020… logging countless Zoom hours talking about (deviously plotting) how we could convince SDSU that comics bring meaningful social change. As with Pam, my last pre-pandemic public event was March 2020’s Comic Fest. At that event, I sat elbow-to-elbow with maskless strangers at a mock-trial for parenting rights over Grogu (“Baby Yoda”). All of us were willing ourselves — a skilled jedi mind-trick, given the various bouts of coughing by folk in the room — not to think about the pandemic that was slowly spreading our way. Driving home from Comic Fest, my family and I stopped to eat our last meal not prepared at home by me for more than 18 months. Yup! Like Pam, my existence was near-hermetically sealed until relatively recently (I even kept my kids in home/Zoom-school until this Fall)… and I still haven’t been in a grocery store.

But who needs food, when there are comics … and tens of thousands of people you’ve never met, who share your love of the same! I already ripped off the band-aid in early September, when I flew to Portland to present a paper, “Punching Romans, the OG Fascists,” on a Punching Nazis: Fighting Fascism in Comics panel at Rose City Comic Con. That experience gave me some clue of what to expect with Comic-Con Special Edition.

I started attending San Diego Comic-Con around 2005, before the days of the giant studios and the glitzy Hollywood types. I remember when the Twi-Hards (rabid fans of the Twilight series) set the bar for camping outside of Hall H several days before Con started (I should know… by the end I, too, was sleeping under a tent with thousands of people to get into the room for Twilight’s last hurrah). I recall when you could walk-up and buy a badge the day-of… and when you could step out of Ballroom 20 (without a bathroom pass!) to purchase your next-year’s four-day badge with preview night. 

Badges could be purchased on-site, something we haven’t seen in many years!

Comic-Con Special Edition reminded me of those days. No tents. No pre-dawn lines or, worse-yet, hunting the volunteer holding the “end-of-line” sign along the waterfront. No shoulder-to-shoulder shuffling across the convention floor.  

My Comic-Con strategy, in recent years of its incredible (over)crowding, has been to “camp” a room… choosing which room (Hall H, Ballroom 20, Room 6… you name it) would have the most overall payoff. I’d carry a veritable extra-dimensional bag-of-holding with food and drink for four, as well as activity books, legos, and fully-charged devices for the kids (I’ve brought both my kids, now 14 and 10, every year of their life). We’d stay in the same room, from 9AM to 5PM, enjoying what we came to see and being pleasantly surprised by whatever else happened in the room. What I appreciated about this Con was that there was no camping required! One could genuinely plot an adventure that took you from the smallest rooms to the biggest… able to see a panel about CBLDF’s education survey in the morning but still get to a bigger room on the other side of the Sails Pavilion later that afternoon to participate in the Buffy Musical Sing-Along (which, like Rocky Horror Picture Show, has its own set of audience participation rules).

The Ballroom 20 “Bathroom Passes” were happily unnecessary during Comic-Con Special Edition!

Perhaps Buffy is the best way to wrap up my part of this blog… Little could be more cathartic after 18 months of pandemic isolation and stress than belting out — with hundreds of now-MASKED people one doesn’t know — Buffy’s demand to “Give Me Something to Sing About” and, better yet, Spike’s response: “Life is just this… It’s living. You’ll get along… The pain that you feel, You only can heal… By living.”

Tens of thousands of us showed up at Comic-Con Special Edition to do just that. Heal. And live.

Panel, Panel, Panel!

We were honored to present alongside Betsy Gomez and Jordan Smith from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund on Friday. Our panel entitled “CBLDF: Civic Engagement and Comics,” explored how civic engagement has been an integral part of comics since the format’s origin, addressing issues as diverse as women’s rights, civil rights, LGBTQ+ representation, antiracism, and so much more. We examined how comics have been used to address social and political issues in the past and how contemporary creators and educators are using comics to engage the community. Our librarian, Pamela Jackson, presented about civic learning in both historical and modern comics about voting and democracy, and Elizabeth Pollard shared how she uses comics and civic engagement in the classroom with her students. 

CBLDF: Civic Engagement and Comics panel from left-to-right: Betsy Gomez, Pamela Jackson, Beth Pollard, Jordan Smith

As part of the scholarly Comic Arts Conference that takes place annually at Comic-Con, Comics@SDSU presented “Comics and Social Justice at SDSU.” We explored the intersection of our efforts with Comics@SDSU and the power of the medium to bring about social change. Five of us brought different perspectives to the panel: Beth Pollard (the professor) reflected on the goals of our campus Initiative as well as the scholarship and opportunities for student learning and research that the Initiative fosters; Pamela Jackson (the librarian) discussed the role of the SDSU Library’s comic arts collection in supporting the Initiative and engaging researchers with social justice through comics; William Nericcio (the publisher) discussed how SDSU’s comic imprint, Amatl Comix, supports social change; Neil Kendricks (the artist) shared his perspective as both an artist and teacher on the power of comics to foster diversity and social change; and Fawaz Qashat (the student) explained the importance of comics courses and the Initiative to his undergraduate SDSU experience, including his creation of a new student Comics Studies Club.

Comics@SDSU panel in action.

One of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards judges for 2021, Librarian Pamela Jackson presented alongside a few of her fellow judges on Saturday morning on the panel, “Judging the Eisner Awards 2021: Behind the Scenes.” Judges shared some of the challenges in judging and their favorite works published in 2020. 

Judging the Eisners panel from left-to-right: Alonso Nunez, Jackie Estrada, Pamela Jackson, James Thompson, Keithan Jones

Comic-Con will be back July 21-24, 2022 and we cannot wait!

Luke Heine

Shang-Chi: From the 1970’s Comic Page to 2021’s Silver Screen

Written by Luke Heine
SDSU History Major / Weber Honors College, 2021

The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, has hit theaters to widespread critical and financial success. Already, it’s the highest grossing movie during the 2020-21 pandemic to date, and has scored above 90% for critics and fans alike on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also a success in presenting the MCU with its first Asian-American protagonist, a sign of a growing commitment to diversity and representation in the coming phase of the cinematic universe. With SDSU recently becoming a certified AANAPISI institution, the film’s focus aligns with the vision of our campus and Comics@SDSU. Like all MCU heroes, Shang-Chi has his origins on the comic book page – but how much has changed about the character since he first debuted in 1973 in “Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15”? 

Top: Bolo Yeung and Bruce Lee. Enter the Dragon. Warner Bros., 1973. Bottom: Shang-Chi vs. Tak. Englehart, Steve, and Jim Starlin. Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15. Marvel Comics, 1973, pg. 17. 

In August of 1973, Bruce Lee’s landmark martial arts film “Enter the Dragon” was making waves with US audiences. Eager to cash in on the new enthusiasm with their own Kung Fu star, Marvel writer Steve Englehart and Penciler Jim Starlin created Shang-Chi in December of the same year. The debuting issue follows martial arts master Shang-Chi confronting his mixed feelings towards his villainous father and his own dark past as a trained assassin. In this way, it is similar to the film, portraying a hero’s journey in which he comes to terms with his lineage and chooses to use his skills for good. However, how Shang-Chi and his father are portrayed has changed significantly across the decades; quite considerably, in fact, for the better.

Cover of Shang-Chi’s Debut Issue. Englehart, Steve, and Jim Starlin. Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15. Marvel Comics, 1973. 

The origin of Shang-Chi himself bears several similarities between the original comic and the 2021 film. In his debut issue, Shang is an adult man who has lived his life in China under the control and tutelage of his father, and his living American mother. In the film, in contrast, a 14 year old Shang-Chi immigrated to America, adopted the name Shaun, and only returned to China to confront his father a decade later. Both versions of the character hold a Chinese-American heritage: one by birth, the other by immigration. In this way, continuity across time is presented in the character, as well as the background he represents. His father, however, is a far different story. In the film, Wenwu is an ageless warlord who has lived a centuries long life, using that time to establish the Ten Rings organization which puppets world events from the shadows. He is approached with nuance and compassion, a loving yet troubled father struggling with the loss of love and the burdens of his cruel past. In contrast, Wenwu’s comic book counterpart is Fu-Manchu, likewise ageless and powerful but depicted in a far less flattering (and often overtly racist) fashion. Englehart and Starlin did not create Fu-Manchu, but rather adapted a crime-pulp novel character of the same name which debuted in 1913. The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, written by novelist Sax Rohmer, presented the titular antagonist as an emblem of prominent attitudes towards Asia of the time: Fu-Manchu is characterized by what Rohmer describes as “Eastern devilry” and “the unemotional cruelty of the Chinese” (Rohmer, Sax. The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu, ch. 7, 10.). Regrettably, these hateful sentiments sold, with 20 million copies sold in his lifetime, a clear reflection of the fearful and xenophobic perspecitve towards Asians held by many of an invasion from the East (Seshagiri, Urmila (2006). “Modernity’s (Yellow) Perils: Dr. Fu-Manchu and English Race Paranoia”. Cultural Critique. 62 (62): 162–194.).  

Sax Rohmer’s “The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu”. Rohmer, Sax. The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu. London: Methuen Publishing Ltd, 1989. Cover image from

By the 1970s, one might have hoped that this depiction would have changed to one less marred by damaging stereotypes, but unfortunately this is not the case. Fu-Manchu continues to hold ambitions of world domination, an Eastern menace who has plagued the “heroic” Western colonial authorities. Written amidst the Vietnam War and growing concerns towards Communist China, the cultural backdrop which influenced this characterization is clear. Likewise, racist adjectives persist, with Fu-Manchu referred to as an “inhuman yellow fiend” and other derogatory descriptors (Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15, pg. 10.). Negative characterization of some nature is expected for the portrayal of any villain; clearly, however, these negatives were rooted in bigotry. Even Shang-Chi’s birth itself has a basis in white supremacy, with his white American mother selected as the “scientifically perfect mother” to bear Fu-Manchu’s child (Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15, pg. 16.).

Shang-Chi and Fu-Manchu. These panels blend the two characters together, using imagery to highlight their similarities and differences. Englehart, Steve, and Jim Starlin. Special Marvel Edition Vol 1 #15. Marvel Comics, 1973, pg. 3.

This brings us to 2021 – have depictions of these characters changed for the better? Thankfully, the answer is yes. The film captures a respectful and open-minded perspective on its characters and their cultural origins; the characters are first and foremost human, relatable, and free from stereotypical depiction. Fu-Manchu, now Wenwu, is still a significant threat for Shang-Chi to overcome, but not for the xenophobic reasons of the 1913 novel or the 1970s comics. Both Chinese and Chinese-American culture is respected and are woven into the story such that they encourage inclusivity rather than inspire fear, and allow for storytelling that will doubtless better stand the test of time than its predecessors. Perhaps this might be attributed to its director and screenwriter, Destin Daniel Cretton (SDSU Alumnus, Film ‘11) and David Callaham respectively, both of Asian American descent. However it came to be, the story of the character of Shang-Chi lends an optimistic message: that we can learn from our mistakes, learn about each other, and overcome the biases of our past for a more diverse and inclusive future.